Reasons we (allegedly) don’t trust the press, #3,181

Toronto’s Eaton Centre Mall was the scene of a fatal shooting this morning, and the Wall St. Journal’s version (paywall) of the story reveals yet another reason why the press is detached from reality in the minds of consumers. Here’s the headline:

Toronto Police Search For Alleged Mall Shooter

The press badly overuses the term “alleged” as a way, they believe, to avoid liability in possible libel or slander cases. What this does, however, is make writers appear to be idiots. In the headline above, for example, if there was a shooting at the mall, and police are looking for the guy, there’s nothing “alleged” about it. There WAS indeed a shooting, but this headline makes me wonder.

In the copy of this article, the word is used twice, both times incorrectly:

“Police searched Sunday for a man alleged to have opened fire in the crowded food court of a busy downtown shopping mall Saturday evening, killing one man, leaving seven others injured and shocking a city unaccustomed to such violence.”

A man actually did open fire, so there’s nothing alleged about it. If the article referred to a suspect by name, then it MIGHT be wise to use the term, but in the context of a general statement, there’s no need to drag out this old bag of meaninglessness to describe what’s taking place. “Joe Smith is alleged to have done this.” Nuff said.

“Police said they are conducting a massive manhunt to capture the alleged killer.”

Again, there was a fatal shooting, and police are looking for the killer. Can we please drop this dreadful word?

This is the kind of conditioned responses we have to real, ongoing events. The language is off-putting and absurd, but we just keep on doing it, because we either don’t know any better or believe we can get away with allegedly treating our customers this way.


  1. I also hate that word in news. And writes always come to its defense using the slander/libel argument. I’ve always felt that the ‘allegedly’ problem (and any other concerns about libel or slander) could be cleared up by using attribution. If the person has been charged or a warrant has been issued, that should be enough certainty to say: Police are searching for a man they believe shot five people at the mall Saturday evening. Then it could continue, “John Doe, according to charging documents/local authorities/Sherriff Mac, walked into Springfield Mall and shot five people before exiting through the gift shop.”

    If there is no name, I don’t see why ‘alleged’ needs to be added in there at all. Like you said, there is no alleged if it happened.

  2. I thought complicity was the reason we don’t trust the media.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.